House struggles to get Hyde records on supposed Yovanovitch surveillance

Exclusive: A congressional candidate's emails to the Foreign Affairs Committee accuse Democrats of "trying to set me up."
Image: Marie Yovanovitch
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 15, 2019.Susan Walsh / AP

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By Josh Lederman and Anna Schecter

WASHINGTON — A House committee investigating potential surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is struggling to get records and text messages from Robert Hyde, the GOP congressional candidate who claimed to have her under surveillance, according to emails obtained by NBC News.

Hyde, in response, is accusing the House Foreign Affairs Committee of "trying to set me up."

The Foreign Affairs Committee announced in mid-January it would investigate text messages that emerged in the impeachment investigation that showed Hyde provided detailed information about Yovanovitch's purported whereabouts in Kyiv to Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani.

Hyde has said it was just a joke, and it later became clear he'd been a middle-man who provided Parnas with information he'd received from another supporter of President Donald Trump, a Dutch man named Anthony de Caluwe.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., called the messages "profoundly alarming," and his committee had asked Hyde to turn over copies of all communications with Parnas as well as to let the committee search his electronic devices. Ukraine's government and the State Department have also been investigating.

But in an email this month to Hyde, the Foreign Affairs Committee said it was "dismayed to read yesterday that you have made statements to the media which greatly exaggerate the extent of your cooperation with this investigation." That referred to a Daily Beast article in which Hyde was quoted saying he'd turned over "everything that I had between Parnas and I."

"As you know, we have expressed repeated concern that the records you previously produced contain significant gaps," the House staffers wrote. They added that it was obvious Hyde hadn't turned everything over because his batch of materials was missing records that Congress already knows about because they were turned over by Parnas, who was on the other end of the texts.

The committee's oversight staffers wrote to Hyde that he'd "failed to explain when and why your copies of those records may have been destroyed," and that he'd failed to follow through on a commitment he made on Jan. 25 to turn over his devices for the committee to search itself.

The committee also said that although Hyde had told them he planned to hire a lawyer, he'd never given the committee the name of a lawyer with whom they should communicate. The email was signed, "Best regards, HFAC Oversight Committee Staff."

A House Foreign Affairs Committee spokesman declined to comment about the emails.

But in a caustic, rambling response, also obtained by NBC News, Hyde said he had only agreed to let the committee inspect his devices "with me present," adding that "knowing how corrupt our government is, I said that I'm not comfortable giving you my devices."

He said he has "nothing to hide from anyone" and that "it's starting to become apparent that you and the FBI is trying to set me up with false or fake evidence" to harm his congressional campaign in Connecticut.

"I'm a nobody that has come from nothing and that loves his country. I'M NOT SURE HOW OR WHY I'M BEING USED IN THIS HOAX OR WHATEVER YOU CALL IT. But it's disgusting trying to set me up. I submitted everything I have," Hyde wrote to the committee's Democratic oversight staff.

Hyde repeated his assertion that he has no overseas contacts and only met Parnas and his associate Igor Fruman a few times. He said he'd turned over everything he could find on his own devices and had not yet obtained counsel because he'd been unable to find someone affordable.

"I've been fully cooperative with you since day one and fully transparent like I've been my whole life," Hyde wrote. "I'm sure you can subpoena my phone, devices, bank records, everything and see that I'm not lying or some other figure or person you are trying to make me look like."

Hyde's unusual role in the impeachment saga came to light when records turned over by Parnas showed Hyde had sent him cryptic texts about Yovanovitch's supposed physical movements in Ukraine in March 2019, the same period in which Parnas and Giuliani were seeking her ouster. Yovanovitch was pulled off the job by Trump two months later, testified in the impeachment hearings in the House and retired from the State Department in late January.